The Isle of Wight’s famous use of old London Underground trains is about to end one era and start a new, as its fleet of 1938 era tube trains are finally being retired.
The uniqueness of the Island Line relying on old tube trains is not at an end though, as the 1938 era trains are being replaced with… 1978 era London Underground trains.
The Isle of Wight’s Island Line is a 8.5-mile railway left over from a much larger network that used to cross the island, and used to be able to use normal sized trains. However, a short tunnel running under the streets at Ryde had its floor raised in 1966 to prevent flooding, and ever since, they’ve been stuck with the small 1938 era tube trains.
They have four trains, but due to their age, only two are in use and the others kept for spares, which was an increasingly untenable position.
In 2016, a report was prepared for the council which came down strongly in favour of replacing the trains with a tram based service with services every 15 minutes. It was felt that the costs of the railway upgrade would be lower for the tram network, and it would open up the potential in the future to extend the tram network further by running along streets.
The tram proposal would also have released some of the existing railway track to be used by the island’s heritage steam railway, which runs in the centre of the Island, and have been itching to get a link down to the main coastal town of Ryde for years.
The report was however commissioned before the Vivarail project was born, which has changed the economics of the railway upgrade significantly. Vivarail has been converting old London Underground D-Stock trains that used to run along the subsurface lines to be used on the mainline railway.
Vivarail has now been awarded a contract to convert five trains for use on the Isle of Wight as part of a substantial £26 million upgrade for the railway.
The upgrade to the line also includes building a passing loop by the station at Brading which will enable the new trains to be more evenly spread out — at the moment they run at a 40 minute interval followed by a 20 minute interval. This causes problems lining up the train arrivals with the ferry service to the mainland – so the passing loop investment will produce a sizable benefit. There are also plans to renew Ryde Railway Pier where trains connect with ferries to Portsmouth.
Vivarail says that the first of the five converted old London Underground trains is due to be delivered to the Isle of Wight for testing in the summer of 2020.
It’s likely that next autumn could see the gradual removal of the old 1938 era trains, so you have probably about a year left to take a trip on them if you want to do so.
The downside of the plan to buy in the converted trains instead of trams is that it means that the hope by the steam railway to take over the tracks and run to Ryde has now been effectively killed off.
The unanswered question is what will happen to the old 1938 tube trains. Could they make a return to London to be used as heritage trains, or at least, as a good supply of spare parts to keep the Transport Museum’s existing 1938 tube train running for longer?